Fleur de Guerre is a copywriter & vintage model, she dresses in a vintage look every day. “My eras of interest are the late 1930s to the very early 1950s, and although I am not averse to a bit of era mixing, the bulk of my wardrobe focuses on the everyday styles of the early 1940s. I dress more like the girl on the street than a moviestar, but everyone else seems to think I look glamorous! ” Whether you go the whole hog like Fleur or just want to incorporate vintage pieces into your style, hopefully these tips will help you get on the right path!
♥ Your body shape can determine which eras and styles suit you best. Slender boyish types look amazing in 20s and 30s styles, and voluptuous hourglass ladies are incredible in 50s outfits. 40s looks tend to emphasise the shoulders and waist but look fabulous on a range of body shapes. Don’t be afraid of shapewear either, if it fits you properly, it shouldn’t be uncomfortable, and it works wonders for smoothing out your silhouette. What Katie Did is a great place to buy vintage style undies.
♥ If you’re going to buy online (I buy most of my vintage from eBay US), know your measurements! And no cheating! Well, you can use shapewear to skim a bit off your squishy bits, but it really pays to know exactly what size you are. This is not infallible of course as sellers can, and often do, get measurements wrong. It’s always best to err slightly on the bigger side as you can wear a belt or have it taken in, but you usually can’t let stuff out much. Make sure you know your back length (neck to waist), shoulder-to-shoulder and ideal skirt length too and ask a seller to measure if in doubt.
♥ Do your research on the era(s) you’re interested in. There are some great books on Amazon like this, which is part of a series that shows what the everyday woman (and man!) wore. I also like to save sewing pattern pictures that I come across online, as well as pictures of dresses I can’t afford or other people’s droolworthy finds on the forums I read. Then, when you know more about cuts, shapes and details, you can take your knowledge to the high street to pick up vintage-looking basics like blouses, skirts and knitwear.
♥ Perfect a few vintage hairstyles from your chosen era, like simple curls or waves, an updo or victory rolls. Look on Youtube for tutorials or buy one of the great books like these that came out recently. I worked out a few styles that work for me by trial and error … and lots of hairspray! You don’t have to dedicate your life to finding the perfect set though, headscarves, bandanas and snoods are a vintage girl’s best friend. My favourite lazy day do is a big faux fringe (rolled around a mesh hair rat from Claire’s accessories) in the front and pinned up in the back with a chiffon scarf tied in a bow on top.
♥ It’s all in the detail. Vintage costume jewellery and accessories like clip earrings, brooches and belts can be cheap as chips and will transform an outfit and make you look so well put together. Never underestimate the power of seamed stockings either! Put it all together with a vintage hairdo and you’ll look like you’ve stepped out of the past even if you’re dressed head to toe in Primark.
♥ Learn to sew or knit and put your skills to good use. Vintage patterns are easy to pick up and you can choose more practical and washable fabrics. Being able to adjust your own clothes is an incredibly useful skill, especially if you’re not a ‘normal’ body shape (and who is?). A few nips and tucks can turn a shapeless high street dress into a very good semblance of a vintage one. Even sewing on vintage buttons can transform a modern garment.
♥ If you can’t sew, invest in having some quality vintage repros made for you. My eternal problem with buying vintage is that I am very tall and long-waisted, so dresses are often too short in the bodice, or skirt … or both! Repro shoes are also a good investment as they are usually handmade in small batches. You can find a list of reproduction clothing and shoe companies on my website, and many of them will do custom made items. All these are small, or even one-woman enterprises, so you can be sure they’re also ethical.
♥ Adopt some old-fashioned beauty techniques. I have trained my hair to go up to 4 days in between washings. It means much longer-lasting sets and easier styling, and I don’t have to sleep on rollers so much. Plus it’s better for your hair and scalp in general not to wash so much. Try using dry shampoo or cornstarch to combat greasies. I also love using vintage products like cold cream and witch hazel, which are both simple and gentle and work wonders on balancing my combination skin. In this modern age of beauty products stuffed with chemicals and preservatives, it can be nice to go back to basics.
♥ Know how to treat your vintage. I’ve heard many a woeful tale of deadstock sweaters being washed and ending up child sized. I’ve luckily managed to avoid any major mishaps, but it can happen to anyone. Find a dry cleaners that specialises in old textiles, quite often the normal places can end up damaging, rather than cleaning your pieces. When you’ve had a non-washable dress cleaned, wear dress shields religiously. Even ‘clean’ stuff can have armpit funk that will only make itself known when you’ve been wearing it … and usually at very inopportune moments! Oxyclean is god’s gift to cotton dresses though. I’ve had some pretty stained things come up like new after a good soak, but never do more than one at once. If one runs, you could end up ruining them all.
♥ Last but not least, do always try to look your best, but don’t take yourself too seriously! There are some very snooty vintage people out there and I pride myself on not being one of them. Dressing head to toe in a period style is not for the faint hearted, and people always want to talk to you about it (or shout things at you!). Don’t take jibes seriously, smile graciously when complimented on your 60s look, even if you’re dressed like an extra from Poirot and always thank people when they compliment you on your hair or dress. The positive reactions I get vastly outnumber the negative ones, luckily. If you always look fabulous, yours will too!